They’ve been called many things – the Millennial Generation, Generation Y, Echo Boomers, Digital Natives, Tightrope Generation, Generation Next, Generation Me. Now they are earning the title of the Boomerang Generation. If you have a recent college graduate, or a college student due to graduate in the next few years, chances are that you should be getting that bedroom or basement ready to welcome your student home again.
It may be reassuring to some parents with students moving back home, and to those students as well, to know that they are not alone. One survey suggests that 85% of college seniors expect to move back home, at least for a time, and a 2016 UBS survey found that 63% of millennials actually do move home after graduation.
Although career prospects have improved, as more young adults graduate with high college debt, face rising rents and stricter mortgage standards, they are apparently postponing marriage and starting families and choosing instead to live at home – at least for a while. According to a Pew Research Company analysis of recent census data, approximately 32% of 18-34 years olds live in their parents’ homes. According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States has the highest percentage of young adults living at home since 1940.
So it is clear that for many graduates moving back home not only makes sense, but may be their only option. Some may stay for a short while and others may settle in for the long haul.
You may be delighted to have your student return home, or you may be concerned about how things will proceed. Having your student home again may be a mixed blessing as your empty nest becomes repopulated. Every family will be different. Every parent’s reaction will be different. This may be a wonderful time to get to know your child as an adult. This may also potentially be a difficult time of adjustment. Some families may feel the financial impact significantly – even delaying potential downsizing to a smaller home or postponing retirement plans.
Careful planning and lots of good communication are keys to a successful arrangement. Questions about how long the arrangement will last and what the “house rules” and expectations will be are crucially important and should be discussed prior to beginning the arrangement. Here are some things that you can do to help the process go more smoothly for both you and your student.
Understand that this is probably difficult for your student.
If your student has been on her own during the college years, this will be an adjustment for her. She may feel that she is taking a step backwards as she returns home. She may feel that she should be out on her own – many of her friends probably are. She may feel that she is giving up the independence that she worked so hard to gain. The more understanding that you can be of the emotional implications of this move for your student, the more smoothly the process will go.
Remind your student (and yourself) that she is not alone.
Even though this may feel like a step backwards to your student, statistics support the notion that more and more young adults are choosing to live with their parents. Your student is clearly making the same decision that many others are choosing as well.
Recognize that your student is now an adult.
Your student has been on her own for a while – possibly several years. She is not the same person who left home as a freshman. She has matured, had life experiences, and been independent. You may need to work at getting to know her all over again. Don’t assume that everything will be the same as it was before she left. Respect her independence and the maturity she has acquired.
Have a discussion with your student about both of your expectations for this arrangement.
Sit down with your student and have a discussion about how you both view this arrangement. The more questions that you address at this point, the fewer unexpected difficulties will arise later. There are some important questions that you should address before you begin.
- Is there an end-date for this arrangement? If you don’t want to set a specific end-date, at least set a date when you will sit down again and reevaluate the situation.
- Will your student be expected to contribute financially? Will you charge your student rent? What will it be? Will you charge your student the amount of the additional cost of having her home (food, water, etc.)?
- Whether or not you charge rent, will your student be expected to contribute to the family? Is she considered a renter or a family member? Will she help with meals, do her own laundry, take out trash, clean the bathroom? Is she expected to help with younger siblings? Clearing up expectations early will prevent difficulty later.
- Are there going to be house rules? What are your thoughts about staying out all night? Overnight guests? Parties? Think carefully about your comfort level in various areas. This may require some negotiating with your student, but don’t wait until an uncomfortable situation occurs before you address it.
- Will you be helping your student with finances? Loan payments? Car payments? Is there an expectation that she will pay you back? If so, how soon?
- Do you have expectations about your student looking for a job? Going on to school? Will you be comfortable if she settles in and doesn’t work or works part-time?
As a parent, you might be able to use this time to continue to educate your student about how to function in the world. Discuss budgets, expenses, workplace expectations, life lessons. Don’t allow yourself – or your student – to slip back into old adolescent routines, but try to let her take the lead. This is a new phase and a new way of being together.
There is a good chance that the phenomenon of “boomerang kids” is here to stay for a while. An article in the New York Times refers to this as “a new permanent life stage.”
Embrace the adventure
Having your student return home after college may not be something that either you or your student planned, but it may be necessary and can be an adventure for you both. The arrangement can be very formal, with a written contract, an end date, and rent, or it can be very informal. Decide what feels right for your family. Your student will certainly benefit from the safety net that you provide – both emotionally and financially, but you will also benefit from getting to know your student as an adult. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much you like this person and how much you enjoy having her around.
As a college parent, or college graduate parent, finding your way through this perhaps unexpected phase will be a new adventure for both you and your student. Recognizing your role and working with your student to find a new way of living together and appreciating each other, will be yet another opportunity to forge a strong adult relationship.